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With the NHL lockout over, several members of the Washington Capitals returned to Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., Tuesday to begin preparing for training camp.
Alex Ovechkin, who landed at Dulles Monday, was on the ice with nine of his teammates: Forwards Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Mike Ribeiro, defensemen John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Mike Green and John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby.
News and notes emanating from Kettler this morning:
-- General Manager George McPhee said that he was not at liberty to discuss the health of forward Nicklas Backstrom, who suffered a neck injury while playing with Dynamo Moscow in Russia's KHL, until training camp officially begins, which he believes will be Saturday. Yet, Ovechkin, who was Backstrom's teammate in Russia, provided an update.
"I think he's doing well. It was not a dirty [hit] than was before," he said, referring to the hit from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque that gave Backstrom a concussion last January. "But sometimes it's not hard hit, you just feel a little dizzy. We'll see how it goes."
-- As for defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who has been out of action with an upper-body injury he suffered while playing with the Caps' AHL affiliate in Hershey, McPhee said that he will "probably not" be ready for the start of the regular season, which is expected to begin Jan. 19.
-- Speaking of the regular season, the schedule has yet to be released, but according to McPhee, it has been changed several times already.
"It looked like we were starting with two games on the road and now it looks like we’re starting with three at home, but it might all change tomorrow," he said.
If the season were to begin Jan. 19, the Caps could open in Tampa Bay against the Lightning, which is where they would have been based on the original 2012-13 schedule. With Inauguration Day the following Monday, Washington would probably not open the home portion of its schedule until at least Jan. 22. On the original schedule, the Caps were scheduled to face the Ottawa Senators that day at Verizon Center.
-- With no more than a week-long training camp, the Capitals find themselves in an interesting situation. Head coach Adam Oates, one of only four new coaches in the NHL this season, has an entirely new system to install with players that he was not allowed to contact during the lockout. Oates, however, is not worried.
"It’s gonna be different," he said. "It’s gonna be different for the guys and we’ll try and make the transition as smooth as possible, but every single team in the league has new players, so everybody is in the same boat a little bit when it comes to that. A lot of teams have a few new faces. No lineup is the same, really. But, yeah, it is a little bit of a transition and we’re going to try and make the guys get through it as smooth as possible.
"I think everything is affected," he continued. "The guys’ reads, we talked about conditioning, the handling of the puck. Everything is going to be affected and as sound as you can get the team to play as soon as possible, you’re going to be better off."
-- Throughout the lockout, Ovechkin was one of several Russian players who threatened to stay in Russia if his salary was drastically reduced under the new collective bargaining agreement (a report surfaced Tuesday that Ovechkin, Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk and Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk were prepared to announce that they were going to stay in Russia regardless of what happened in the NHL and were guaranteed $30 million each by President Vladimir Putin to do so).
Even though he ultimately came back to Washington, Ovechkin admitted that he was indeed hesitant to return to the NHL.
"Of course," Ovechkin said. "I want to find out what the deal is because if this lockout is done, it’s done. What’s gonna be situation with my contract and the contract for the future for the players?
"I thought that I’m gonna stay the end of the season and play in Russia," he continued, adding that he did not believe last week that the NHL and NHLPA would resolve their issues. "You can ask any guy in Russia what they think and they’re gonna say the same thing. It was hard time for us, for some of us, but it’s over."
-- When Ovechkin did return to the U.S., he returned a taken man, having proposed to girlfriend/tennis star Maria Kirilenko on New Year's Eve. Asked about how it felt to be engaged, Ovechkin said he felt "normal."
"It’s not that feeling anymore when you can do whatever you want, you have a girl with a tennis racquet and she can hit you," Ovechkin said. "It’s funny. It’s great feelings for me right now."
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